It was amusing to watch President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon smile in triumph on Wednesday. At a time when Bush is going through Iraq policy woes and Sharon may be indicted for corruption by Israeli High Court, the agreement gave each a needed morale booster.
Here’s the thinking: Peace will apparently come to the Middle East by dictating to Palestinians what they can forget about and what they have to accept. And agreements can be negotiated without consulting the Palestinians — one of the primary parties. Essentially, Bush and Sharon negotiated between themselves. There’s just one little problem with this ‘perfect’ agreement – the Palestinians don’t have to abide by it. There’s something known as international law. And then there’s the 56-year Palestinian struggle for justice to right the wrongs of the past. Palestinians are not going to turn their backs on either just because a couple leaders find legitimate grievances inconvenient to their careers.
There was talk about realities on the ground. Bush’s letter stated, ‘In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949. . .’
Israeli settlements have long been recognized as a thorn in the side of Middle East peace. They’ve been referred to as war crimes by International Committee of the Red Cross head, Rene Kosirnik, since the Geneva Convention forbids resettling individuals on occupied lands. Even then-President Ronald Reagan proposed a peace plan in 1982 that required freezing such settlements. ‘The immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed,’ Reagan said.
But the settlement building continued and leaders from both Labor and Likud never took a reprieve since occupying the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
Numerous reasons were cited by Israelis for the need to build Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, from needing more housing to accommodate Jewish immigrants to God’s insistence that the land must belong to the Jews even if it means ridding the land of its inhabitants violently.
But nobody expressed the objective of settlements better than Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who once urged that, ‘Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours.’
The ‘realities’ became ‘realities’ out of a strategy to expand the borders for Israel in any final settlement. Every US president until this one understood this and each administration has been opposed to Israeli settlement building. Bush’s own father, the first President George Bush even delayed $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel until he got assurances that US monies would not be used for Israeli projects on occupied territory.
How times have changed. So much for the adage, ‘Like father, like son.’
In terms of realities on the ground, most people would consider it a reality for landowners to demand the return of confiscated land. And most people would consider it realistic for people to want to return to their land after being forced out. Isn’t that what the US-led war in Kosovo was all about?
Is it reasonable for Palestinians to return after several decades? Well, Israel’s Law of Return, passed by the Knesset in 1950, guarantees the right of all Jews to ‘return’ after 2,000 years.
Some say that if Palestinians return, it will mark the end of Israel and its Jewish character. Those Palestinians who opt to return will undoubtedly change the landscape, but righting the wrongs of the past ought to supercede visions of grandiose nations built to cater to one particular religion. Nobody taught the lesson of righting the wrongs of the past more than heroic Jews — who still demand compensation or the extradition of war criminals in the Third Reich.
Ultimately, Palestinians have never been ones to be put in their place. Bush and Sharon may be patting themselves on the back, but they need to keep in mind that their ‘triumph’ is as good as Palestinians allow it to be a triumph. Since they are not party to the ‘hailed’ agreement, they are not bound by the charade.